Thursday, May 8, 2014

ArmyTek Partner C1 Review by Ben Schwartz

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Ben Schwartz's first review for the site.  Ben is one of two folks that have kindly offered to throw their hat in the ring and write about gear.  Ben won the Topic Submission contest for Episode 21 of Gear Geeks Live.  

When I was younger, and more obnoxious and sincere than I am now, I was in love with a girl who matched him in both obnoxiousness and sincerity. We encouraged in each other a penchant for philosophizing, and over the course of a year or so we cobbled together a philosophy of the world, in which all the different peoples and behaviors we had observed up to that point in their young lives were assiduously catalogued in a process that we called, in their esoteric two-person argot, “compartmentalizing.”

Thinking about the Armytek Partner C1 brought that word back to me. The world of gear is filled with categories and subcategories. When we talk about a piece of gear in a review, to be fair in that review we have to keep in mind what the piece of gear was designed for, what set of needs it was made to meet. To get a little more pretentious (because I only said I was less obnoxious now) we can imagine the world of gear as a fantastic, massive chest of drawers, with hundreds of little drawers with meticulous, exact little labels on them that say things like “Knife, folding, EDC,” in which we would find, say, both the Kershaw Skyline and another drawer that says “Knife, folding, EDC, under 3 inches”, and that contains the Strider PT-CC and the CRKT Drifter, and another drawer that says “Knife, folding, EDC, under 2.5 inches” and contains things like the Bug and the Micron. I think it is part of the reviewer’s job, before he even goes about the messy business of articulating an opinion, to take a piece of gear, and put it in the right drawer or subdrawer—to compartmentalize it.

When I look at the C1, I find it difficult to find the right compartment. It seems to have been designed, not haphazardly, but perhaps too broadly: Armytek seems to have wanted to make a light capable of being both a straightforward, pocketable EDC light, as well as something robust and bright enough to be used in the outdoors or put into a tactical role. And while it can be said that it is possible to flex the C1 into both of these roles, I don’t think it excels at either.

Here is the Partner C1’s product page. It costs $42.95, and comes with a belt holster, a lanyard, two replacement O-rings and one replacement button. The Partner C1 comes in two flavors, one with a Cree XP-G and one with a Cree XM-L emitter; neither light uses a reflector; instead, Armytek uses TIR (Total Internal Reflection; see Surefire EB1 review here for more information) optics to shape the beam. It should also be said that the Partner C1 is only one branch of the larger Partner series, which also includes the A1 and A2 models, which use one and two AA batteries respectively, and feature the same options for emitters; here is the incomparably thorough Selfbuilt’s review of many of the Partner models.  Here is the review sample (I was contacted by Armytek and they provided the sample for review):

P1020231
Review Summary: An interesting, but unsuccessful, attempt to straddle the line between EDC and heavy-duty flashlights.

Design: 1

"Armytek Partner flashlights are designed to be effectively applied for Hunting and Fishing, Sports and Camping, Work and Rest, as well as for other activities where a reliable pocket light source powered by wide-spread batteries is needed.” So saith the Partner C1’s user manual. Now, that’s a wide swath of activities, and it implies a variety of conditions: indoors and outdoors, near and far, urgent and everyday. The idea of an all-purpose flashlight is a good one, but transmuting that idea into something physical is a difficult, if not impossible endeavor, and the actual design of the Partner C1 indicates that this is so. It’s almost as if the designers realized they couldn’t quite make their light do everything the way they wanted to, and so instead of focusing on either EDC or tactical/outdoor uses, decided to retain, almost at random, elements of both: it uses a single CR123a to maintain both decent outputs and pocketability, for example, and yet is much thicker than the average CR123a EDC light, with the stout walls and matte, rough-and-tumble anodizing of a tactical light.

On the subject of output, the total lumens output is 510, and the lumens: weight is 212.9. I hesitate to say anything more about specific elements of the light here because they’ll be discussed in depth in the different categories below, but the reason this light is docked a point in this category is for the vagueness, or incoherence, of the design. Here is the light compared to the standard Zippo (it is a wee little thing):

P1020232

Fit and Finish: 2

There’s nothing to complain about here. The anodizing is even, the threads are cleanly cut, the emitter centered beautifully (emitter centering, to me, is like blade centering: something that I think we should expect on every light we purchase). And all this on a light that’s only forty bucks. This is the first Armytek product I’ve ever handled, but it’s clear from this light alone that they’re a company that prides themselves on what they put out. Great job.

Grip: 1

The anodizing job, which I mentioned briefly above, is great for an EDC light: just grippy enough to ensure purchase.

P1020261

But I wonder about its effectiveness in a tactical/outdoor situation: it becomes somewhat oily-feeling when wet, and the knurling and grip-patterns throughout the body are less useful than I think they were meant to be.   (EDITOR'S NOTE: There is also no knurling whatsoever and the body tube is basically the same size throughout).  So, I’m going to give this light a 1 here, because as I said above I think that it was designed with both indoor and outdoor use in mind, but if you’re looking to use it in an EDC-type role, add a point here.

Carry: 1

The light’s a bit wide in the pocket. Nothing offensive, but it certainly is more noticeable than I thought it’d be, and it’s definitely not carryable when I’m wearing my favorite hipster cords (EDITOR'S NOTE: hipster cords are fireable offense, just kidding; not really, but okay). Again, the dual-focus design works against the Partner C1: it’s nearly small enough to be pocketable, but not quite large enough, in my opinion, to make the belt holster worthwhile—unless I were out hiking or something with it, of course. I tended to keep it at the very bottom of my pocket, which makes retrieval a bit of a hassle, which I guess is one reason they give you the lanyard, but it’s not quite enough and feels, to me, like a half-measure. The fact that this light does not have a clip irks me, because that’s a desirable feature in both an EDC and a tactical/outdoor light.

None of these issues would bring the light down to a one on their own, but together they become significant enough to dock the Partner C1 a point here.

Output: 1

So we have two levels on the Partner C1: a high of 330 lumens and a “low” of 85. In reality, there’s much less of a difference between these levels than the numbers would indicate. In the week or so that I carried the light, I could use the levels almost interchangeably, and when I first got it was unable to tell which level the light was on at any given time.

I don’t think that it’s fair to give the light a zero here, both because of the split nature of the design and also because it always gave me enough light to do whatever needed to be done (including changing a tire in the dark on the side of the highway on a frigid Ohio night: not recommended unless you like seeing your life flash before your eyes every couple minutes as a truck or a shuttle bus roars by you). But I do think that the level choices are strange, and I want to point out that I think that this is the biggest issue with the Partner C1 (and one that may possibly be getting fixed; see the end of the review for more details).

Runtime: 2

So you get your 330 lumens for 1 hour and 15 minutes, and your 85 lumen “low” for 6 hours. To me, those numbers are decent, especially given the brightness of the 85 lumen “low.” Again, it would be really, really nice to have a genuine low level, and the runtime would be exponentially better of course, but as it stands I don’t see anything to complain about here.

Beam Type: 2

The TIR optic makes for an interesting beam type: you get great throw on both levels, and the low’s hotspot is chilled out enough to make it not impossible for close-up tasks I’d normally prefer something a little more floody for (hi, Peak Eiger).

Beam Quality: 1

Decent. The tint is fairly neutral. The way the optic’s textured does give the beam a shape that’s nearly square, with four distinct points radiating out from the center, almost like petals on a flower (the first time I turned the light on, it reminded me of the enormous celestial rose of divine love at the end of The Divine Comedy), but it’s not distracting. That being said, it’s not perfect. The texturing on the optic itself gives the fringes of the spill an odd, dimpled look.

P1020240

If you open the light up, you’ll find there’s a film over the lens to make the beam appear smoother than it actually is. I understand that to a great extent you get what you pay for, but I try not to allow budget products to get away with obviously cut corners, and so while I can say that the beam is perfectly serviceable, it’s also the case that it could’ve been better, and seems to be one area where they tried to save a few shekels in manufacturing this light, when it should’ve been the one area where little to no compromises were made.

UI: 1

Is it right to penalize a clicky light that works perfectly fine on the basis that there are simply better UIs out there? Additionally, given the Partner C1’s tactical heritage, is it right to want something better? In this particular case I’ll say yes, because again, the light is not just a tactical light. If it’s supposed to be a kind of appeal to more mainstream needs, which I think it might be, then why not have a better UI?

That being said, the clicky interface here is completely serviceable. I like that you can half-click it to switch between the two modes without having to turn it all the way on and off again. It has a weirdly long mode memory, too, which, given the half-click mode switch option, seems superfluous.

Hands Free: 0

The Partner C1 can’t tailstand because of its clicky. It has nothing to stop it from rolling (EDITOR'S NOTE: there are some flats machined into the body but they are ineffective, especially because they do not align front to back, as you can see below, when the rear portion and the body tube are screwed together):

P1020237

This is probably the second biggest issue I have with the light.

Overall Score: 12 out of 20

Yikes. That score makes me pause for a minute, because it makes it seem like I like the Partner C1 a lot less than I do. It’s fine in a lot of ways: it’s super sturdy, it uses an extremely cool TIR optic, and it comes with a bunch of extra stuff, all for around $40. There’s not a single thing that’s really offensive about the Partner C1—although the output levels do come pretty close.

No, the problems with this light, and they are pretty grave problems, are all under the hood. Actually, let’s scratch the metaphor and say that the problems are almost...metaphysical problems, intellectual problems—design problems.

Every well-designed object, be it a light or a knife, a car, a house, or (to draw from my primary field) a book, has at its center a single purpose. Everything about that object should accrete around that purpose—the materials, the fit and finish, the diction, the tone—and should be gathered towards that single end. It’s a question of focus. Again, the Partner C1 is by no means a bad piece of kit. The build quality is superb; I have not spent as much time as maybe I should have conveying how pleasing this object is to have and hold. It can be used in many roles. But in the end that lack of focus, or rather that sense of too many focuses, reveals itself again and again, and of all the many roles it can be placed in, I can’t say that it excels in a single one of them. If I were looking for an EDC light, I’d reach for my Peak Eiger first every time; if I were looking for something more “tactical,” there’s a bevy of choices. Heck, even if I wanted a sort of “do-it-all” light, the Zebralight SC52w is available for not a whole lot more money, and let’s face it: if I’m even looking at something from Armytek, I’m consumed enough by that dread disease, flashoholism, to be willing to drop not that much more cash on something quite a bit more capable and rounded out feature-wise.

So, I can’t change the score, even if I am garlanding it heavily with caveats. In a place as rich with options as the gear world is, it’s tempting to attempt to stand out by trying to make something that eschews the compartmentalization that gives shape and order to we gear geeks’ obsession. By trying to speak to everyone at once, though, you risk being heard by nobody.

A last note: Armytek are apparently in the process of updating this light: adding a low level, eliminating the weird mode memory, and adding a clip. These are quite possibly huge changes, and I’d be interested in seeing that light when it’s released.

EDITOR'S OPINION: Ben nailed it on this one.  I had the light for about a week and half before sending it out to Ben for review and I think he spotted every one of the criticisms I had on his own.  This is a decidedly last gen light with the design, the lack of tailstanding, and the output levels.  But there is reason for hope here.  The fit and finish, the robust overall feel, is pretty impressive.  This is one of the very few lights that I can say with confidence feels like it is as stout as a Surefire.  If Armytek updates the design and the UI, they have the potential to have a real winner on their hands.  My experience with the Viking, a more advanced light, proves this is true.  The Partner isn't all that impressive, but good bones are there.  Think of the Partner as the team that finished in 4th place, but got a superstar in the draft.  You get the sense that Armytek is about to unleash it...

The Competition

Ben doesn't have the Fenix PD22 to run as a benchmark comparison, so I will do this portion of the review.  Frankly, other than fit and finish and build quality, the Fenix light surpasses the Partner in every way.  While I dislike two-button clickies they are better than normal one-button clickies and comparing to the proves the point.  Additionally a crappy pocket clip is better than none at all, though I would imagine you could pry a friction fit number on the Partner.  Finally, the weird texturing on the optic is just kind of odd and I like the disco purple beam from the PD22 better in shape though the tint is clearly worse.  Here, the artifacting is so prominent that I'd take the off color tint and no artifacting from the PD22.   

9 comments:

  1. I liked the review. Ben has a good grasp of design philosophy and knows how to put it into words. The editor's note were a bit much, though. Personally, I would have preferred it if you had simply worked them and the comparison into the text, and saved your editor's notes for when you wish to comment on the review, instead of merely expanding on it. That's mostly a matter of taste, though. Anyway, keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just wanted to make clear whose opinions were whose.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I had high hopes for one of the first/few reviews for a Canadian company on this site. For the other Canadian fans of your site and EDC gear, can you recommend some other canadian made edc products we may want to check out? Particularly in the knife / flashlight department?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi! Canadian fan here. I don't believe any of Armytek's products are made in Canada. Though they are a Canadian company, all their product seems to ship from China and you have to pay import duties the same, if not more, than you would on American products.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Needs more editors notes
    [Editors Note: Sarcasm]

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm looking forward to the updated version. I think a few of the shortcomings mentioned here are deal breakers for me, but they should be easily fixable.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Who is the him referred to in Ben's opening sentence?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Nice review, Ben. Ignoring the marketing hype and just looking at the lights themselves, I'd say they the Partners are a "Law Enforcement back-up light." Nevertheless, it appears the design wants to sit down between two bar stools.

    Still, it looks like ArmyTek has some decent construction. I've been looking at their Wizard headlamps and they look like an interesting competitor to Zebralight.

    ReplyDelete